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table of contents

spacer   bird print bullet 
points pandora's box
    bird print bullet 
points enduring friendships
    bird print bullet 
points take the nature guide quiz
    bird print bullet 
points become a terwilliger nature guide! information session august 6, 2011
    bird print bullet 
points food scraps for compost, not wildlife
    bird print bullet 
points band-tailed pigeons
print bullet 
points great gifts fpr dads and grads
Pandora's Box. Oil on canvas by Paul Cesaire Garlot spacer

Pandora’s Box  Oil on panel by Paul Cesaire Garlot, 1877   Private collection

Mongoose. Photo from akeyinthedoor.com spacer
The voracious Indian Mongoose, introduced to Hawaii in the 1800s has decimated native bird populations and continues to enlarge its range. Photo from akeyinthedoor.com spacer
Seals on the Rocks of the Farallon Islands. Albert Bierstadt spacer
Seals on the Rocks, Farallone Islands  Oil on canvas by Albert Bierstadt, 1872-1873   More than 400 species of birds have been identified on the Farallones, and the refuge is home to a menagerie of whales, great white sharks, seals and sea lions. spacer
Glory of the Seas. Painting by William A. Coulter spacer

Glory of the Seas Off the Farallone Islands  Oil on canvas by William A. Coulter, 1906  House Mice are thought to have been introduced to the Farallon Islands when 19th Century sailing ships stopped there.

Ashy Storm-petrel at WildCare. Photo by JoLynn Taylor  

The Ashy Storm-petrel is not currently listed as an endangered species, but in the U.S. it is considered a species of concern. Photo of WildCare patient by JoLynn Taylor


introduced species
in california

(partial list,
click for the complete list)

Africanized Honeybee
Asiatic Rice Borer
American Bullfrog
Black Rat
Brown Apple Moth
Brown Rat
Citrus Nematode
Crystalline Ice Plant
Dwarf Eelgrass
Garden Snail
Gypsy Moth
House Mouse
Mediterranean Fruit Fly
Northern Pike
Pampas Grass
Purple Star Thistle
Quagga Mussel
Rock Pigeon
Scotch Broom
Scotch Thistle
Virginia Opossum
Water Hyacinth
Zebra Mussels
Farallon Islands. Photo from NOAA  
The Farallon Islands. Photo from NOAA  
 Farallon Islands. Photo from kqedquest  
Western Gulls are also known to prey on Ashy Storm-petrel chicks. Eliminating mice will not eliminate this threat to the petrel. Photo from kqedquest  

pandora’s box

There is a reason we repeat stories and fables to our children. The reason is that they hold some form of universal truth that transcends time.

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman, created from water and earth. The gods endowed her with many talents: Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo music, Hermes persuasion. Her name, Pandora, means “all-gifted,” and it is not a coincidence that the name is related to the name scientists gave the original landmass of earth: Pangaea— “all-earth.”

In the fable, Pandora had a box (in some versions a jar) which Zeus instructed her not to open under any circumstances. Impelled by her natural curiosity, Pandora opened the box, and all the evil of the world that was contained in it escaped and spread over the earth. She quickly closed the lid, but the box was empty, except for one thing that still lay at the bottom—Hope.

Pandora is an apt representative of the people of earth; spectacularly gifted and curious. We humans have developed untold numbers of tools and techniques, and like Pandora, have released them into the world without anticipating or understanding the consequences. Hope lets us believe we can somehow manage the evils, but clearly, as in the fable, we can’t put them back into the box. So how can we manage the evils we have released?

add more evil?

Time after time we have seen the folly of trying to reverse an evil by introducing something else to the situation as an "easy fix." This often sets off a chain of events that quickly spins out of control and causes collateral damage we can’t predict.
The introduction of the Indian Mongoose to Hawaii in the late nineteenth century is a prime (and disastrously ongoing) example. Imported to control rats on sugar plantations, mongooses released on the Hawaiian Islands thrived in their new environment but not, unfortunately, by eating rats. Mongooses are diurnal and rats generally nocturnal, so the intelligent and agile predators found the native species of birds, reptiles and amphibians to be much better prey. Mongooses apparently have a taste for eggs, so their introduction has wreaked wholesale destruction on the many indigenous (and endangered) birds on the Hawaiian Islands. There are apparently few things that a mongoose won't eat, and as the mongoose has no natural predators on the islands, their population continues to thrive.

Short-sightedness about the nature (and voracity) of mongooses has lead to a real crisis for the many animals native to Hawaii. Adding mongooses to the Hawaiian ecosystem has only caused problems not solved them.

profit and loss

Scientists are tasked with protecting endangered species; the government funding they receive is usually limited, and focused only on the endangered species. No one wants to lose funding for the protection of endangered species, but if we don’t keep the bigger picture in mind, it can be disastrous in the long run. Funding constraints encourage wildlife managers to want to take the cheapest, easiest, most direct way, but this isn’t always (actually, almost never is) the right way for the environment.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is now considering a plan to kill off non-native mice in the Farallon Islands to protect the Ashy Storm-petrel, among other reasons. The most direct way to eradicate the mice is to dump tons of pellets of a rodenticide called brodifacoum across the islands. This is a method of rodent eradication that has previously been used on islands, and the USFWS claims a high level of success from the process. Unfortunately WildCare sees, all too often, the effects of rodenticides on wildlife, and we urge the USFWS to consider rodent control alternatives that, although less expeditious, do not require the use of this deadly and persistent poison. Click to learn more and sign WildCare's petition against the proposed use of rodenticides.

mice, poison and the farallon islands

For our work in wildlife rehabilitation, WildCare relies upon science, but healing and medicine are also arts. These arts employ science when it is available, but when it is not, we must rely on experience, heart, empathy and morality. Our work with animals demonstrates every day that we are all part of the same ecosystem, and that we cannot use a sledgehammer to resolve wildlife issues when surgery is required.

We all see first-hand the results of the environmentally devastating application of poisons on wildlife. The effects we see are not just on the rodents targeted; but also on the food chain where poisons remain. We humans are poisoning our entire environment. Whether the poisons are pharmaceuticals flushed into sewer systems (and ultimately our waterways) that are affecting the hormones of fish and amphibians, herbicides used to control invasive species along riparian waterways, lead and mercury that leach into wetlands from mining, or rodenticides used to control rats and mice— it doesn’t matter. We are fouling our own nest and it must stop.

There has been a lot of press surrounding this issue, but if you google the terms "mice," "poison" and "Farallon Islands" together, the top offer you will see is “Mice Poison at Amazon - Low Prices..." which says something about the acceptance in our society of using poisons to solve problems.

The removal of the introduced mouse species is a worthy endeavor if it can improve the nesting success of Ashy Storm-petrels. However, the mice themselves are not the cause of the decline in the Storm-petrel population. There is little or no evidence that mice prey on Storm-petrel chicks. Instead, the reason for the Non-native Mice Eradication Project is that predators not indigenous to the Farallon Islands like Burrowing Owls find their way to the islands, feast for months on the bounty of mice available, and then apparently turn to petrel chicks in the spring as the mouse population drops (a seasonal fluctuation.) Proponents of the Project claim that eliminating the mice will cause petrel predators to leave the island before petrel chicks are born, thus increasing nesting success. This is only a hypothesis, however. The owls and other predators may not actually disappear if the mice do, meaning there is no guarantee that the rodenticide dump will aid the Ashy Storm-petrel.

As species plummet out of existence at an unprecedented rate, maintaining biodiversity is a valid goal. But is the wholesale use of a poisonous substance which is known to be toxic to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians (click to read the actual safety label of the rodenticide they propose to use) really justified in this case?  

“These are man-made problems,” said Maggie Sergio, Director of WildCare Solutions. “Is the aerial dumping of tons of poison over a pristine wilderness area really the answer? Click to read a San Francisco Chronicle article on this issue.

better living through chemistry

It is most distressing to see scientists and wildlife managers relying on the use of poisons when WildCare works so hard to educate the public about what these poisons do to our environment. Our education work to improve the environment becomes collateral damage in the war against invasive species. If poisons are good enough for these highly intelligent scientists, they seem like the only option for the average person. They are widely available everywhere, and are used extensively because all of us think “my problem” is more important, and "I’m only using a little bit." 

People have opened Pandora’s box of introduced species as evil upon other species. Is our only option really just to add more evil? Or like Pandora, can we hope for a better solution?

We urge you to consider the big picture and to help us convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service that they should also consider the wider ramifications of using pesticides. Public comment on the South Farallon Islands Non-native Mouse Eradication Project has been extended to June 10. Please sign our petition now and help us demand an environmentally sustainable solution to this problem!

White-tailed Kites. Photo by Richard Pavek

Click to RSVP

Learn How to Photograph Birds in Flight

Join WildCare's 2011 Living with Wildlife Photography Contest Best in Show winner, RIchard Pavek as he presents "Photographing Birds in Flight," an in-depth look at how to capture spectacular wildlife photographs of birds in action!

When: Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Where: WildCare (click for directions)

Space is very limited, click to RSVP now!

This presentation is free to WildCare members, $25 to non-members. Not yet a member? Join today!

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spacer Hippo and tortoise
  Well-circulated internet photo of the orphaned baby hippo who was befriended by a resident giant tortoise.
  Saw-whet Owls. Photo from NOAA

Saw-whet Owls  Photo from NOAA

  Common Ravens. Photo by David Taylor

Common Ravens  Photo by David Taylor

  Mexican Free-tailed Bats. Photo by JoLynn Taylor

Mexican Free-tailed Bats. Photo by JoLynn Taylor

  Two raccoons. Photo by JoLynn Taylor

Two raccoons. Photo by JoLynn Taylor

  Elephant friends. Photo from the Power of One
  Elephant friends. Photo from The Power of One
  Snapshot from Slow Food Nation
  Snapshot from Slow Food Nation: Native Plants in the Victory Garden

enduring friendships

June is graduation month, and because of the change graduation implies, many people may be giving more consideration to the friendships they have formed through shared experiences. Humans are not unique in having friendships. They occur throughout the natural world. Some of the most popular internet images are of animals displaying unusual friendships. The orphaned baby hippo who bonded to a giant tortoise comes to mind.  This could easily be attributed to simple loss and need fulfillment, but it is more complex than that.

Many plant and animal species, including humans, tend to live in groups. Social life is a complex and effective survival strategy that includes well-defined rules for food management, role assignments and reciprocal dependence.

In recent years, research has become available that expands our prior understanding of animal language, cognition and tool use and even sexuality. Emotions arise in the mammalian brain, or the limbic system, which human beings share with other mammals, as well as many other species. Friendship, as it turns out, is one of the manifestations of the limbic system in action.

what is friendship, anyway?

Jennifer Viegas, responding to a comment made about her article, “Animals Make Friends, Too” had this to say:

“Friend” isn’t a scientific term, so researchers tend to use phrases like “maintain social links,” “stable unrelated subunits,” and other more technical descriptions. You see those phrases in studies on human relationships as well.
We don’t know what bats are thinking, but they exhibit all of the behaviors we associate with friendship, such as trust, communication, preference for companionship, helping each other out and more.
New studies now look at biochemical changes associated with affiliation. Certain hormones, like oxytocin, increase when we bond with others, and the association isn’t always sexual. When dogs and cats receive welcome attention from us, they produce more of these hormones, which are believed to help forge social connections. In future, scientists may study bats and other animals to see what chemical changes they have. The results can provide clues on what they’re thinking and feeling.

friendship by any other name

Reciprocal altruism is a behavior in which one individual does something to benefit another, with the expectation that the beneficiary will reciprocate at a later time.

Jorge Moll and Jordan Grafman, neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health and LABS-D’Or Hospital Network provided the first evidence for the neural bases of altruistic giving in volunteers. Using magnetic resonance imaging, they showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activated the mesolimbic reward pathway, a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food and sex. However, when volunteers generously placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, another brain circuit was selectively activated— the subgenual cortex/septal region. These structures are intimately related to social attachment and bonding in other species. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges, but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

Elephants, dolphins, some carnivores and some non-human primates have the ability, like us, to maintain enduring friendships.  A new study, published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society adds bats to that list. It describes the interaction of two unrelated female bats, one of which acted almost as midwife to the other.

Vampire bats also display reciprocal altruism. The bats feed each other by regurgitating blood. To qualify for reciprocal altruism, the benefit to the receiver would have to be larger than the cost to the donor. This seems to hold as these bats usually die if they do not find a blood meal two nights in a row.

plant friendships

Native Americans planted corn, beans and squash together in a combination called the Three Sisters. ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service Master Gardener Mardi Dodson writes, “Corn offers a structure for the beans to climb. The beans, in turn, help to replenish the soil with nutrients. And the large leaves of squash and pumpkin vines provide living mulch that conserves water and provides weed control.”

In a recent article in the Marin IJ, UC Marin Master Gardener Dot Zanotti Ingels described similar “friendships” among plants in her article, True Companions. Gardeners can plant certain vegetables, herbs and flowers near each other to allow them to provide the friendly benefits that such biodiversity can offer. This is something that occurs naturally in the wild, but smart gardeners and farmers can take advantage of the friendships nature can show us.

Next time you’re hiking, notice one plant climbing another, or thriving in the shade of a taller plant. It isn’t accidental.

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Turtle Rock on Ring Mountain. Photo by JoLynn Taylor spacer
What type of stone is Turtle Rock on Ring Mountain? Photo by JoLynn Taylor  
Bullfrog at Spring Lake. Photo by Janet Sinnicks  
Bullfrogs can be found at Spring Lake. Are they native to California? Photo by Janet Sinnicks  
Suncup at China Camp. Photo by JoLynn Taylor  
Where can you find suncups? Photo by JoLynn Taylor  
Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by George Eade  
Where would you go to look for a Northern Spotted Owl? Photo by George Eade  

take the nature guide quiz

WildCare's Nature Guides learn the natural history local habitats including oak woodlands, redwood forests, grasslands and fresh water lakes. Test your own knowledge of nature in Marin.

Want to learn more? Plan to attend our Nature Guide Information Session on August 6! Click to register now.
Which of these animals found at Spring Lake is NOT a native species?
1. Mallard Duck
2. Alligator Lizard
3. Bullfrog
4. Red-tailed Hawk
Answer: Bullfrogs are not native to California, but were introduced to many areas of California in the early twentieth century. Increased water temperatures and increased aquatic vegetation, which are common factors of lakes polluted by humans, favor bullfrogs by providing suitable habitats for growth, reproduction and escape from predators. Introduced bullfrogs may be driving native frogs to extinction in some areas.
Which type of rock dominates the geology of Ring Mountain?
1. Igneous
2. Easy-listening
3. Metamorphic
4. Sedimentary
Answer: Most of the rocks on Ring Mountain, including Serpentine rocks, belong to a class scientists call metamorphic. Metamorphic rocks are created when rocks of different types are forced together under tremendous pressure, change in composition and appearance and lose their original identity.

Muir Woods is home to which threatened species?
1. Salt-marsh Harvest Mouse
2. California Clapper Rail
3. Eligible Bachelors
4. Northern Spotted Owl

Answer: Muir Woods is one of the few remaining undisturbed habitats of the Northern Spotted Owl, a species that requires old-growth forests to reproduce successfully. Its favorite prey is another species that prefers to live in forests and away from people, the Dusky-footed Woodrat.

Which of the following wildflowers will you NOT find in Miwok Meadows in China Camp?
1. Blue-eyed Grass
2. Suncups
3. Sticky Monkey Flowers
4. Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Answer: You won't find the the Tiburon Mariposa Lily in China Camp, because this flower is only found on Ring Mountain. It has adapted to the unique ecology of the poor soil there, and is found nowhere else on earth.

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 NAI conference in Panama

Nature Guide showing birds, photo by Anita Bock

Nature Guides in action. Photo by Anita Bock

Become a Terwilliger Nature Guide

WildCare’s Director of Education, Juan-Carlos Solis was invited to talk about the Terwilliger Nature Guide Program at the International NAI (National Association of Interpretation) annual international meeting in Panama in May.

His talk was entitled "An Effective Volunteer Program: The Ultimate Interpretive Tool" and it discussed how volunteer Nature Guides can really make a difference in the lives of children by introducing them to the natural world.

Terwilliger Nature Guides lead discovery hikes for over 2,200 elementary school children every year. The program is an international model for how interpretive volunteers can make a difference for environmental education. Click to read more and see other presentations at the conference.

Join WildCare Naturalists to learn more about the natural world around Marin and Sonoma Counties and become a Nature Guide at one of four sites:

bird print bullet point Miwok Meadows at China Camp, San Rafael
bird print bullet point Muir Woods
bird print bullet point Ring Mountain, Tiburon
bird print bullet point Spring Lake, Santa Rosa

Nature Guide Orientation August 6, 2011. Click to register!

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spacer Food scrap pail


This 2-gallon kitchen pail made of hard plastic is dishwasher-safe and fits under most sinks. It has a hinged lid that will stay open and reduces odors and flies. It costs about $12.

  Collecting compostables. Photo by Christina Haro


Your green carts can now be placed curbside weekly (with the exception of San Anselmo, where the program has not yet been approved by the town council). The cart may contain exclusively food scraps, or just yard trimmings, or both yard and food materials. Layering the materials with yard waste on the bottom and top, will make the contents less attractive to wildlife.

  Marin Sanitary dropping compostables at the Resource Recover


Mixed green and food waste collected curbside is taken to the Marin Resource Recovery Center and run through the grinder before being taken to Zamora for composting.

  Composting at Zamora. Photo by Kim Scheibly


The windrow composting process at Zamora has been employed for the yard waste feedstock for several years. This will continue as a planned expansion of the facility is completed.

  Aerated static pile technology at work. Photo by Christina H


The facility currently uses covered aerated static pile technology (up to 5,000 cubic yards) for pre-ground, residential mixed yard and food waste.

  Research being done. Photo by Christina Haro


Research is being done to determine the emissions reduction of volatile organic compounds and ammonia, compost quality, compost maturity (time it takes to compost), odor impacts, and pathogen reduction for future full-scale operations.

  Owl box being installed


Wildlife raids of your green cart should not be a problem if guidelines are followed, but WildCare’s Hungry Owl Project will help you install owl boxes in appropriate areas where rodents are a big problem.

  Marin's Own compost


The majority of the rich, organic soil amendment rendered from MSS customers’ yard and food waste is currently sold to farmers in the agricultural areas surrounding the Zamora facility. As the food scrap collection program expands to eventually include collection of food scraps from restaurants and other commercial accounts, this soil amendment will be available to Marin County residents.

food scraps for compost, not wildlife!

WildCare is always trying to help people live well with wildlife, which often means helping keep wild animals out of your trash and protecting the environment we share. Now Marin Sanitary Service (MSS) is pleased to announce a new service that will help you do that too! People living in a single-family home (not apartments…yet) can now place food scraps, along with the yard trimmings, in their large green carts for weekly curbside collection. That means all green carts will now be collected weekly, (with the exception of San Anselmo, where the program has not yet been approved by the town council) even if they had been previously collected every other week.

Commercial food scraps will be processed locally with a Food to Energy Program involving a collaboration between the Central Marin Sanitation Agency and MSS, projected to begin in 2012.

As Marin County is working towards a goal of “zero waste” by the year 2025, now is your chance to easily reduce the amount of material that YOU are sending to the landfill. Even if you already enjoy composting at home, you will find this added service of benefit since many more foods can be accepted than what would be compostable at home. The list of foods includes meat, eggs, cheese and more. And if you have more food than your worm bin or composter can handle, you can use this service for the surplus.

The compostable materials collected by MSS are taken to Northern Recycling in Zamora (close to UC Davis), located in a largely undeveloped rural area surrounded by orchards. The finished product, certified as organic soil amendment, is sold by Northern Recycling to the farmers surrounding the facility.  The windrow process is currently used to compost the yard trimmings. The pre-ground mixed yard and food material is being composted with the use of a new technology called “covered aerated static compost piles.” This process produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the windrows or the typical home compost system. Research is being done to see if the system would be viable for future full-scale operations.

get started

If you are not currently composting at home, you may have some questions about how to collect and store the scraps in your kitchen and how to properly contain it in the green cart outside. For answers to these and other frequently asked questions, visit the FAQ section of the MSS website.

Basically, any type of small container can be used for collecting your food scraps. Of course the smaller it is, the more frequently it will need to be emptied. Look for a container that will hold a week’s worth of food scraps. A lid helps prevent problems with fruit flies and odors. Unless a great deal of meat or rotten cooked food is added, the odor should not be a problem.

If you don’t want to just use a large bowl or a bucket, you can purchase kitchen pails designed specifically for collection of compostables. There is a vast array of styles, sizes and brands available at places such as hardware stores and kitchen stores.  Some are very basic and inexpensive and some are more high-tech. Basic kitchen compost pails are typically between 2-4 gallons. Decide on size according to where it will fit in your kitchen (on the counter or under the sink) and how much material you will generate on a weekly basis.

the “ick factor”

Since plastic bags are not accepted in composting, some people are understandably hesitant to participate because of their concern that their kitchen container, and also their curbside green cart will become coated and stained with old rotten food. To reduce this problem in your curbside cart it is very helpful to make sure there is a layer of yard trimmings or leaves in the cart before adding the food material. If you don’t have any yard trimmings, a layer of newspaper, soiled paper plates or napkins, etc. can be used to line the bottom of the can.

Another option is the use of BioBags, although these are less preferable for the composting process since they take longer to compost than the other materials. BioBags is the only brand of biodegradable plastic bag accepted in the MSS composting program. Not all compostable or biodegrable bags are made equally. Some companies sell plant-based bags that simply degrade, but do not truly compost. Additionally, BioBags brand guarantees that the corn they use is NOT grown with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course a paper bag could also be used!

curbside feasts for wildlife?

The other concern that some people have is that those pesky raccoons or rats and other rodents may decide to have a curbside feast on your leftover food scraps. Most of the time animals can be kept out of any of your curbside cans by simply setting them at least 3 feet apart from each other and by using bungee cords to secure the lids. Mixing the food with yard trimmings also reduces the attraction they have to your green can ingredients, and if still a problem, enclosing the food in a BioBag (as described above), should eliminate the problem. But if you haven’t had problems with animals raiding your regular garbage can with food scraps in the mix, then it shouldn’t be a problem… and just taking the first measures above should eliminate the need for a BioBag.

If rats and other rodents are a big problem where you live, you might consider an owl box. As one might imagine, the collection facilities at MSS are one of the greatest attractions to rats, so to help us keep down infestation using only natural methods, we have installed two owl boxes from WildCare’s Hungry Owl Project. These boxes invite local Barn Owls to inhabit them and raise a family. Barn Owls can consume a third of their body weight per night, and a family of five can consume more than 3,000 rodents in a breeding season.

the greener way

One of the largest environmental issues we have to deal with is our trash. Like everything else, the trash we create, and what we do with it, can affect wildlife in ways of which we aren’t aware. As Marin County works toward a goal of virtual “zero waste,” MSS is working to do as much as possible to help citizens do their part, including collection of food scraps for composting. It’s so important to remember that we are all connected and that managing our trash is one huge way we can help prevent wildlife conflicts. Reducing trash helps reduce our negative environmental impact. Putting it to good use is the answer!


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Band-tailed Pigeon by John James Audubon spacer
Band-tailed Pigeons on Dogwood illustration by John James Audubon  
CA Band-tailed Pigeon range map  
Breeding Range in California from Nature Mapping  
Band-tailed Pigeon showing his band  

Band-tailed Pigeon displaying his band.


Band-tailed Pigeon eating acorns. Photo by Tom Grey  

Acorns are a favored food Photo by Tom Grey


Band-tailed Pigeon. Photo  from the Wildlife Society  
Band-tailed Pigeons are more likely to be found perching in trees than Rock Pigeons. Photo from The Wildlife Society  
Band-tailed Pigeons on a feeder. Photo by Herman Koberle  
Band-tailed pigeons on backyard feeder. Photo by Herman Koberle, Pleasanton, CA, from Gary Bogue’s column, Pets and Wildlife in the Contra Costa Times  


Trichomoniasis is an infection of birds by the protozoan Trichomonas gallinae and is commonly found in pigeons, turkeys, chickens, hawks and Mourning Doves and is contagious to other birds. It is related to Trichomonas vaginalis, which affects humans, but T. gallinae is not contagious to people.

One study found that about 16% of urban Rock Pigeons in the city of Mozul carried the disease. Other birds may become infected from sharing feeders with doves and pigeons. The disease is highly fatal to House Finches.
June 13 is National Pigeon Day!
What a great day to clean your bird feeder!


band-tailed pigeons

Hardly anyone thinks of pigeons as a threatened species, but that is because we tend to think of our city pigeons (actually called Rock Pigeons), who have become very successful in human environments. Not so for the Band-tailed Pigeon, however. Our only native California pigeons are having tougher times because their lifestyle is very different.

Band-tailed Pigeons (also called Bandtails) are members of the Columbidae family. Also called wood pigeons and wild pigeons, they are sometimes confused with Rock Pigeons (the familiar city pigeon) because of their similarity in size and posture, but generally the range of the two species does not overlap. Band-tailed Pigeons are forested area perching birds while Rock Pigeons have adapted to life with people. Distinctive characteristics of bandtails (compared to feral Rock Pigeons) are their black-tipped yellow bills, and yellow legs and feet (click to watch a video of bandtails.)

Another major difference is their temperament. For whatever reason, Band-tailed Pigeons are terrified in captivity and are as psychologically fragile as rabbits or deer or crows. All of these species require careful treatment in rehabilitation because they can easily die from fear alone. Perhaps there is a good reason for this. These are all species that have been heavily hunted or persecuted by people, and only the most fearful and cautious have survived.

a cautionary tale

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prior to the enactment of federal game laws, large numbers of Band-tailed Pigeons were killed and shipped to market—a fate similar to that of the Passenger Pigeon. Most Bandtails were taken from oak woodlands of California. In the winter of 1911–1912, a large concentration of the West Coast population of migrating Bandtails gathered in a small area in central California to feed on a bumper crop of acorns when trainloads of sport and market hunters descended on the wintering birds and shot huge numbers of them. Naturalist William H. Finley wrote this in 1917 in the book, Birds of America:

The most striking example of the disappearance of a species in American natural history is that of the Passenger Pigeon. The Band-tailed Pigeon of the West might have followed in the path of the Eastern bird within a few years, had our people not been aroused to its necessity for protection. The enactment in 1913 of the Federal law for the protection of migratory birds was the most important step ever taken in saving this as well as other species of American birds. Under the provisions of the act, the Band-tailed Pigeon has been removed entirely from the list of game birds that can be killed until September 1, 1918.

...The habit of the Pigeon collecting in large bands in certain seasons has made it possible in the past for hunters to kill enormous numbers. This, coupled with the fact that the bird does not reproduce itself rapidly, usually laying but a single egg, is sufficient reason why it can be exterminated readily.

This scenario—minus the market hunting that was outlawed in 1916—was repeated at least twice more, in the 1930s and the 1940s. In 1972, more than a half million Band-tailed Pigeons were killed in California, and one-quarter million in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. This was estimated to be about half of the entire West Coast population.

During the 1980s, heavy harvest of second growth low-elevation forests occurred throughout the Pacific Northwest. Rapid and widespread loss of nesting habitat and forage items resulted. Large numbers of pigeons have also been killed by Trichomoniasis, a protozoan disease that can be transmitted at bird feeders. Hunting seasons were subsequently restricted or shut down for the next ten years, opening only on a very small scale compared with previous seasons.

The West Coast Bandtail population has slowly been increasing in the last decade, in response to hunting closures and restrictions coupled with habitat rehabilitation and regrowth. Hunting is now allowed only when populations are above a certain “threshold” level, and even then only in a very limited season with a very modest limit. The complete population total is unknown, but two basic types of surveys have been conducted annually that form a trend analysis of population changes. These involve breeding bird “calling” counts along prescribed fixed routes during the peak of breeding, and more recently, with counts at known mineral springs.

why mineral springs

In one Oregon study, most nesting occurred within 16 miles of mineral springs. Bandtails’ diet consists of nuts (called “hard mast”), such as acorns, as well as grain, buds and fruits. During nesting, they rely on “soft mast” such as native berries like elderberry, bitter cherry, serviceberry, huckleberry, bunchberry, hawthorn and buckthorn as they ripen. This soft mast is deficient in essential minerals, especially calcium, which is required to make egg shells and in the development of bone and tissue in the young, called squabs. Mineral springs and mineral-laden coastal waters are crucial to successful reproduction.

Band-tailed Pigeons gather at mineral springs to drink the waters before returning to their nests, where the solution is processed in glands found along the throat. Once in the parent bird’s crop (a sack-like structure in the throat where food is stored) it is made available to the squabs in the form of a curd-like “pigeon milk,” a mixture of soft mast and water. Adult birds may return to the mineral springs two or three times a week, both parents taking turns traveling and brooding the squab.


In February, 2011, Krysta Rogers, an Associate Wildlife Biologist in the Avian Mortality and Diseases Department of the California Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova made a presentation to the group of wildlife rehabilitation centers gathered for the annual regional meeting with Nicole Carion, the Department of Fish and Game coordinator for all wildlife rehabilitators in California. Her presentation covered some of the information contained in this article as well as information specific to wildlife rehabilitation.

Krysta asked for participation from wildlife centers to help research her study to assess the impact the disease Trichomoniasis has on our native Band-tailed Pigeon population.

WildCare will contribute to this by collecting biological samples from live Band-tailed Pigeons admitted to WildCare as well as necropsies of any of those that died or were euthanized.

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